Book Review for “An Unknown Woman” by Jane Davis.
When Anita and Ed’s London home of nearly 15 years burns to the ground, taking everything they own with them, it ignites a brushfire through all of Anita’s life, bringing everything she thought she was always so sure of into question for her. Suffering from what is probably PTSD, Anita goes off to stay with her parents in Liverpool, only to discover that even the familiar comfort of her parents and childhood aren’t what she thought they were. More importantly, when she discovers the secret about her mother Patti, the destruction of her home seems suddenly almost inconsequential. In her latest novel, author Jane Davis brings us two masterful character studies of a mother and daughter, combined into one journey.
What do you do when something happens in your life that makes everything you’ve experienced until then seem like you’ve been living in a dream? How would you react if the things you thought were stable turned out to be transitory? How can you begin to look for clues to things you never noticed were happening? How can you begin to pick up the pieces when didn’t realize things were broken to begin with? These “slap in the face” moments are what Davis delves into in this novel. That’s a tall order to fill, but as stark and scary as these may seem, Davis approaches them with an amazing tenderness that peels away the fears and darkness.
Davis begins by investigating Anita, and the trauma of the fire that shakes her world. Although Anita still has Ed to lean on in this crisis, in the midst of the ruins, it becomes evident their relationship is more fragile than either realized. This leads Anita home to her parents Ron and Patti, where Davis then delves into their secrets. Of course, we expect to find the rawness underneath, and Davis delivers that in ever building circles of stress. Even so, Davis also remembers that healing begins after the wounds are completely clean. The cleaning process is the most painful part, and Davis approaches this as gently as possible.
What drew me into this story and the lives of these people is Davis’s careful and gradual lighting of the dark corners in her character’s lives through her calming prose. This is the perfect counterpoint to the shocks of the fire and revelations along the way, almost as if the writing style is ballast to the storm that’s rocking Anita’s life. Furthermore, if you think about it, there aren’t any characters as antagonists here. Instead, the enemies are really the situations and events that disrupt these people’s lives. Since there are no real “bad guys,” we can find comfort in the idea that the triumph to overcome these problems will not come at the expense of the downfall of someone else. Because Davis inspires such deep empathy in her characters, and once invested, you hate to see any of them get hurt. Despite this, Davis also doesn’t spare her characters from pain, making it even more touching.
Essentially, what Davis gives us here is an intensely human story that feels ripped from the pages of someone’s personal diary, and then softened with expressively tender and graceful prose. This is not an easy story to read, but at the same time, it is ultimately captivating. Davis brings us into a realistic world with all of its stark realities and frustrations, shattering illusions along the way, while allowing us to feel that what may seem insurmountable isn’t hopeless. Even so, there was one thing that didn’t sit totally right with me, but to discuss it would mean including a spoiler, so I’ll refrain from expanding on this. For all this, I can highly recommend this novel and I’m giving it four and a half stars out of five.
“An Unknown Woman” by Jane Davis, published by Createspace, released March 9, 2015 is available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, the Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literacy), or from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the author for sending me a copy of this novel for review.